Can Yahoo make smarter bets on programming than TV networks?

Forget development and pilots and going with your gut. Yahoo has a new
approach to programming: Study what your audience wants, find an
advertiser willing to pay, and come up with a program to match.

Can it work? And will the struggling network television business follow suit?

The online media giant is launching a new Web series called “Spotlight to Nightlight” (pictured the right with host Ali Landress) that focuses on celebrity motherhood (here’s a sample episode). How did it come about? As this article in the New York Times explains, the folks at Yahoo noticed that articles about celebrity moms are particularly popular on its gossip site OMG. And lead sponsor State Farm was proactively looking for a new vehicle to reach women.

approach is, of course, the exact opposite of what most networks and
studios do in Hollywood. Sure, they engage in research and focus
groups. But mostgreenlights are, more than anything else, based on
decisions made by creative executives who mix relationships with talent
and agents, knowledge of what has worked in the past, and their own

Former Yahoo Media Group head Lloyd Braun, who was
entertainment president of ABC before taking that gig, had a similar
approach. But to say it didn’t take off would be an understatement.Braun’s Hollywood style programs like “The Runner,” originally developed at ABC, never made it online. And the exec only lasted two tumultuous years on the job.

The new Yahoo, under audience group senior VP Jeff Dossett, is doing a 180. They’ve even canceled the one program Braun did launch, “The 9,” a round up of popular Web videos that was doing fairly well. But James Pitaro, a VP at Yahoo, told the Times that it wasn’t a “response to any specific audience demand.”

“Spotlight on Nightlight” is the new Yahoo’s second show, along with “Primetime in No Time,”
which recaps a night of TV in a few minutes. Interestingly, both shows
are tied to existing Yahoo brands — OMG and Yahoo TV, respectively —
giving them a leg up in finding an audience and serving an additional
purpose for the portal besides drawing eyeballs to video ads.

Hollywood, of course, “nobody knows anything,” as William Goldman
famously put it. That’s why we’re so often surprised by what turns into
a flop and what’s a hit and why executives come and go for no real
logical reason.

Yahoo, however, is better that by carefully
researching what audience click on the Internet and working with
sponsors from the outset, it does know something. It’s not exactly a
formula for creative risk. But if it’s a formula for more reliable
financial success, it may be a hard one to argue with.

We’ll have more on Yahoo’s new approach to entertainment here on Technotainment next week in an exclusive interview. Stay tuned.

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